Sunday, October 1, 2017

Honoring Baby Therese

In honor of the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux I've decided to share something I wrote four months ago to honor our miscarried baby. I never meant for this letter to be public, and I'd rather be spared awkward sympathy, but if my words help even one person process the pain of a miscarriage, they will be worth posting.

To my dear Therese Miriam,

It has been a week since God took you back. You were in our lives for such a brief span of time that I would’ve thought it would be easy to go back to the way things were before. I didn’t think it should be this hard.

After all, we put the Lord in charge of family planning years ago, and through this we have learned to trust in His will. I trust that you’re safe in the arms of Jesus. You’ll be raised by saints free from the evils of this world, a perfect flower tended by the Master Gardener. I can’t wait to someday see your lovely face.

I know, too, that miscarriage is so very common and natural. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, so statistics were not on our side. I’m comforted to be surrounded by so many women who have walked through this dark storm to later be renewed by a rainbow of hope.

Yes, my reasonable brain told me this shouldn’t be too difficult. I spent many moments this week basking in the sunlight of late spring amid the giggles of my living blessings, feeling perfectly normal. I was grateful that we hadn’t told many people about the pregnancy, making it easy to simply move on like nothing happened.

And yet, it has been incomprehensibly difficult.  My breath has been stolen at the horrendous thought of flushing a life down the toilet. My heart aches at the indignity of pretending you never existed.

It has been said that, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,” (-Elizabeth Stone). Your life was just a few fleeting weeks, but it only took a moment to give my heart away.

So I will honor the part of my heart that walks in Heaven.

I named you Therese after Saint Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.” Like you, she was too delicate for this world. A sickly girl, she was too weak to fulfill any great mission. Yet through her writing she taught us that even the smallest, weakest flowers among us can leave a lasting legacy.

Your middle name is Miriam after the little girl who watched carefully over her brother Moses. Louisa had prayed so fervently for a sister, but we hadn’t yet told her we were expecting. On the night I started bleeding, without explanation she began crying inconsolably and had to sleep in bed with me. Please watch over her and your brothers as Miriam did for Moses.

I will plant a rosebush in your honor and have a mass said, but most of all I will try to learn from this experience. I know that even the shortest of lives has a divine purpose. I believe that the labor of suffering can give birth to profound grace. What does God want us to learn through your brief life?

Maybe it’s the stronger hope of Heaven to finally meet you. Maybe it’s the realization that none of our children are our own; they are God’s flowers for us to tend so they’ll bloom for His glory. Maybe it’s the acceptance that our surviving children can never experience the perfect childhood that you will in Heaven. Maybe your death will bring our family closer together in gratitude for each other.

Whatever gift the Lord is giving, I pray for the graces to unwrap it.
Until we meet again,

Finding a way to honor Therese's life paved the way to healing. Four months later, I am happy to report that we are once again expecting a new family member! Oh, and that rosebush I bought to honor Baby Therese? It's been blooming all week leading up to today's feast day.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Small Town Blessings & Sharing the Bounty

In the past couple weeks we’ve been blessed by many moments that make my heart swell with gratitude for small-town life.

It all started at the school open house. I have to admit, I was a little nervous to send our first child into the big, scary world of pre-school. Believe it or not, Marion seems big compared to the K-12 school I attended. My nerves were immediately calmed, though, when Nate proudly pointed out the coat peg he himself had used as a kindergartener. One look at the class list and we recognized a handful of familiar last names. These country roots run deep.
A few days later, we went to the county fair where the smell of fried food and shavings instantly transported me to my dairy and swine showing days. We watched a few rounds of swine showmanship and I was shocked when Louisa expressed an interest in participating in the Pee Wee division. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find an FFA member willing to take her under her wing. They’re planted in fertile soil.
That Sunday, we attended my favorite little country church where Victor decided to lay on the floor under the pew while the two-year-old behind us mirrored his posture. Little did the two boys know that they are actually fifth cousins, but their strong German genes give them the same fair skin and wispy blond hair. The branches are strong and wide.
At one point, we found ourselves sitting around a circle of friends while the mob of kids hunted for frogs. It’s hard to believe that a few years ago it was just us adults. What will these gatherings be like in ten more years? Will we be watching our kids compete in homecoming football games? In twenty more years, will we be celebrating the wedding of two of these munchkins? The harvest will be plentiful.
I cherish this small-town life. To me, the barn quilts that dot our rural roads represent the warm spirit that blankets our community. We’re enveloped by our history, our farming heritage, our families, and our faith.
At the same time, my heart aches for those in our midst who feel outside of the blanket. The foster child whose last name is unrecognized or carries a shameful reputation. The autistic child who could so benefit from interacting with a fair animal, yet all the local farmers seem to have no room in the barn. The child in church whose skin and hair color doesn’t match the child behind him. The child who’s rarely invited to birthday parties or playdates because no one knows her parents.

We’ve got a good thing going for us out here in God’s country. As we approach a new school year this autumn, I’m resolving to share the bountiful harvest with all the neighbors around us.

I hope you’ll enjoy us for our first annual Pigeon River Oktoberfest this Saturday. It’ll be an event to celebrate heritage, community, family, and local businesses. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the development of CASA of Shawano and Waupaca Counties, an excellent way to extend the warmth of our communities to those who need it most. CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates, and the organization will pair community volunteers with children involved in Child in Need of Protection and/or Services (CHIPS) cases in our court systems. Volunteers work to establish a trusting relationship with the child in order to develop resilience and advocate on the behalf of the child in court. Come to Oktoberfest to find out how you can help support this worthy organization!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Marital Intimacy: The Wedding Night is just the Beginning

The day has been perfect. Months of preparation have culminated in an impressive synchronization of decorations, cake, music, photos, and all those special personal touches. Family and friends smiled as the happy couple moved seamlessly through vows, photos, dinner, toasts, and dancing. Finally, the night is over, and the couple can finally escape to solitude. Suntanned, professionally coifed, and a little bit buzzed, the couple is eager to check-in to their honeymoon suite for a night of intimacy.

As we look forward to celebrating our anniversary this weekend, I can still relate to those starry-eyed couples at the many weddings we’ve been attending lately. We’re no longer in the best shape of our lives, and no doubt some of the romance has faded as the “happily ever after” gets more complicated. Yet six years later, my husband and I are beginning to grasp the meaning of true intimacy.

We don’t always get it right, but more and more I’m realizing that the word intimacy can be expounded “into-me-see,” the ability to truly see your unguarded spouse and comingle your bodies, lives, minds, hearts, and souls to more fully embody Jesus’ instruction that, “two will become one flesh.” The wedding night is just the beginning.


True physical intimacy is embracing your spouse’s body in her fullness, including her curves, "flaws," and her fertility.

It’s drying her tears through loss, and then finally rejoicing at the sound of a new heart beating, new life created through your oneness.

It’s leaving the light on despite the stretch marks and cellulite, and having the humor to laugh at your bowls full of jelly.

Intimacy is two lives becoming one. A family, a home, and a future built around common goals. Sacrifices made for the good of the other.

It’s being willing to admit when you can’t stand each other, yet taking comfort in knowing that your vows are not bound by your weak human wills, but by God’s covenant.

It’s tossing and turning all night when he’s out of town.

Eventually even your minds become like one. A momentary glance can transmit a full conversation.

Intellectual intimacy is not holding back your thoughts even though you know you might start a fight, but restraining those words that you know cut too deep.

It’s pushing through the embarrassment of your quivering voice and tear-filled eyes because you need him to hear you out.


Intimacy is sharing one heart. It’s admitting your failure without excuses or shame, and being comforted by the unconditional love that keeps flowing.

It’s feeling the same mix of pride and panic dropping your child off for her first day of school.

It’s being taken aback by life’s fragility as your spouse prepares for surgery, knowing that even though you can’t formulate the right words, she knows the depth of your love.

At its best, intimacy is even the comingling of two souls, sanctifying each other through testing and encouragement.

It’s cutting through the awkwardness of praying together.

It’s sharing your doubts, knowing that his role isn’t to judge you, but to help you on your walk to Heaven.

As we enter another year of marriage, I pray that we and all married couples strive to embody the mystery of the Trinity, separate individuals intimately united by self-giving love.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help

After a few summers of having young babies and business expansions, this one has been refreshingly open. Last weekend we were even able to take an impromptu weekend getaway, and we took the opportunity to cross a place off our bucket list which is right in our own backyard: The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin.
The Shrine is the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. Approved in December 2010, the Catholic Church declared the apparition “worthy of belief,” although not obligatory.

The apparition is said to have happened in 1859 to a young Belgian girl named Adele Brise. Back in Belgium, Adele had planned to commit her life to Christ by joining a convent, but this was no longer possible when her family moved to the American frontier. Adele reported seeing the Virgin Mary on three different occasions and receiving simple messages to gather the children of the countryside and teach them what they needed to know for salvation. Adele followed this guidance by teaching from house to house, and later she went on to set up a Catholic school and a community of Third Order Franciscan women.

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical, as the evidence to “prove” the apparition is scant. Many visitors have reported miraculous spiritual and physical healings, although to my knowledge none of them have been formally investigated. Perhaps the most convincing supernatural evidence is that the five acres consecrated to the Virgin Mary were left unscathed during the 1871 Great Peshtigo Fire which devastated much of northeastern Wisconsin.

Regardless of whether or not you believe the Virgin Mary truly appeared, the message to teach our children the faith rings true today. Our children enjoyed walking the grounds which included a small museum, outdoor rosary and stations of the cross walks, statues of other Marian apparitions, gift shop, café and church. The setting of the shrine is very peaceful in a rural area of Wisconsin surrounded by farm fields. Being midsummer, many perennials also adorned the grounds with vibrant blooms.

At first, involving three young children seemed to hinder the contemplative purpose of a pilgrimage, but then there was a moment when their presence truly enhanced the experience: As we awaited the start of mass, they watched the orange fish swimming around the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. As their three figures lined up with those of Francisco, Jacinta and Lucita, it struck me how consistently Mary seems to involve children in her guidance. May we always remember the significance of our roles as parents!

Champion is situated between Green Bay and Door County. Green Bay offers many amenities and diversions including Lambeau Field, the N.E.W. Zoo, Bay Beach Amusement Park, and more. Door County is a top tourist area of Wisconsin with highlights being the views of the bay and Lake Michigan, several state parks, and many restaurants and shops.Learn more about the shrine.

I’m grateful that Wisconsin has moved on from being a wild frontier to being an area with many attractions to enhance the faith of our children. Are there holy places in your backyard? How has your family benefited from such places?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pigeon River's Anniversary & St. Arnold's Feast Day

If you need a reason to raise your glass on this muggy Tuesday, I’ve got one for you:

July 18th is Pigeon River Brewing Company’s 5th anniversary.

It’s also the feast day of St. Arnold of Metz, the patron saint of brewers (including Nate!).

A sixth century Austrian monk, St. Arnold (or “Arnulf” depending on the translation) encouraged people to drink beer rather than water. In those times, unclean water caused many illnesses. Beer, however, was much safer due to the boiling process killing bacteria and yeast cultures preventing future bacterial contamination. Indeed, the saint likely saved many lives—and brought great cheer—through his advice to “drink beer, not water.” He’s also accredited with saying, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world,” a phrase which has become the unofficial motto of Pigeon River.

Fourteen centuries later, we’re still encouraging people to drink beer, and I’m so grateful to have a patron saint like St. Arnold to make me feel better about this unconventional lifestyle.

The brewery is not just a business; it’s an extension of our family, and has been from the beginning. Five years ago, on the feast of St. Arnold of Metz, not only did we open our doors for business, we also found out we were expecting our first baby. More than the other children, Louisa became a bar-fly baby. In those early days, she spent many Saturdays in a jumper behind the bar, getting to know the regulars. Living on premise, we were always beckoned into the bar to greet customers, and the kids grew accustomed to the sweet smell of mash.

When we moved to our new house, Lou was surprised that it didn’t include a tapline. We don’t frequent the bar as often as we used to, but still one of the kids’ favorite books is “Goodnight Brew,” I occasionally waitress a fish fry, and date nights usually involve the brewery.

So maybe we’re not the typical Christian family, but I’m pretty sure our patron is raising a glass to us from Heaven.

I have a feeling he’s also been intercessing on our behalf. Starting a business can be extremely difficult on a marriage and family, and we’re no exception. At times, building a dream and putting a product into the world left us feeling raw and vulnerable. Grueling hours, last-minute call-ins, and growing faster than our cash flow or schedules could support took their toll. On more than one occasion, I wanted to throw in the towel.

Five years later, I thank God for the grace to persevere, and St. Arnold for his intercession.

As in any worthwhile pursuit, the rewards are proving greater than the struggle. The look on a satisfied customer's face, an award at a beer festival, the ability to provide our employees a livelihood, and our children's grasp of the value of hard work is what keeps us going. Truly,“from man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world."

Raise your glass to St. Arnold and Pigeon River! Prost!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why we go to Mass

Sunday preparations start about two hours before mass begins. Making sure the kids are well-fed so they won’t be cranky. Arguing over outfits. Trying to take a shower while they scream at the door (you’d think the faucet spews acid that will dissolve their mother evermore). Debating whether putting the baby down for a morning nap will cure the grouchiness or give him an extra surge of squealing, face-grabbing energy. Bargaining over whether they can bring toys to mass (the answer is always “no,” I assure them. Toys cause more problems than they’re worth).
As we rush out the door, I remind them of our deal: “If you’re good you get a treat, if you’re naughty you get a __________” (They fill-in-the-blank for their dreaded punishment.)

As we walk in (usually among the last arrivals), the kids grab as many hymnals as they can carry and we hastily make way to a pew, bracing ourselves for the 45-minute battle to come.
Years ago we decided not to get stuck in the rut of a “family pew,” but rather to switch it up each week. Better that all parishioners get their turn amongst our pint-sized distractions, we reasoned. If it’s Lou’s choice, we’re right up front where she can see the action. Nate prefers the back, and I usually choose somewhere in the middle, although lately I’ve discovered that the choir loft is a lower-pressure alternative.
Rise to sing the first hymn. Baby Otto grabs for the hymnal, ripping the page in half. Good thing we have those backups.
Someone has to go potty already. Then of course they need drinks of water out of those awesome paper cups, but don’t you dare throw Victor’s in the garbage when he’s done. He’ll need it to stay by the sink in case he has to go potty again.
Make way back into church, but four-year-old Lou appears to be blazing her own trail down the middle of the aisle, forgetting where we’re seated this week (maybe the family pew isn’t such a bad idea…)
We’re onto the second reading, and Otto seems to have his own message to pronounce to the entire congregation. Speaking in tongues at such a young age, what a gift!
Victor has made himself a bed on the kneeler, but Louisa wants it up. A fight ensues. Remind them of the agreement.
Now we’re onto the homily, and I nervously glance at Nate, anticipating his complaints that he “didn’t get anything” out of today’s service. What a former-protestant thing to say! As if the sermon is why we’re here.
Lou and Vic are fighting again over one of the fifty books on the pew. Issue the second reminder of our agreement.
What’s that smell? It sure isn’t incense emanating from Otto’s diaper…
At some point a seed of doubt sprouts and I wonder why the hell we bother coming.
No time to water that seed, though, because now we’re rising for the Lord’s Prayer and I gently nudge Lou to join us. She proudly recites the prayer, and my heart swells when I realize that two-year-old Victor is stumbling along with us. 
As we turn to give the sign of peace, a beaming parishioner clasps each of their little hands and whispers, “What a beautiful family. Thanks for coming.”
Kneeling for consecration I take a moment to slow my breathing, attempting to ignore the six hands grabbing at me and instead make myself present, not just here in church, but here at Calvary. At the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice.
I do my best to offer myself as a living sacrifice, discerning whether I’m in a state of grace to partake in the sacrificial meal. I’ll be damned if I’m going to take Eucharist outside a state of grace…well, maybe not damned but I would be taking judgement upon myself, and heaven knows I don’t need that.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Waiting in the communion line, the kids are more compliant than they’ve been all morning. Wide-eyed and eager, even they seem aware that we are approaching the true presence of Christ.
Finally, I receive Him, the physical embodiment of grace. Grace flows through every cell in my body, renewing my spirit. For a moment there are no distractions or demands. Just me and Jesus. When I open my eyes, grace continues flowing. I look at my children, once burdensome energy-suckers, and see their pure hearts. The meager choir sounds like heavenly bands of angels rejoicing. His head bowed in prayer, my husband no longer looks like a reluctant participant, but like the saint he’s called to be. And I myself, instead of feeling like an overwhelmed, harried woman who probably just should’ve stayed home, feel like a precious child of God. 
This is why we come. Week after week, year after year. Through teething and tantrums, hangovers and hesitance. We may not always hear the sermons, but we come for more than sermons. It may not be the most rousing service, but we come for more than entertainment. The kids may not always practice reverence, but we come for more than obedience training. 
We come for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the chance to participate in the eternal sacrifice, renew the covenant of salvation, and get grace-filled spiritual food for this crazy journey that we call life.
Lord knows, we need it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

If I could give another Graduation Speech

Today the local seniors had the opportunity to walk through the halls of the elementary school. What a charming way for the seniors to look back on their beginnings while the youngsters form impressions of poised high schoolers. It has me reflecting on graduation, that edge-of-the-diving-board moment before our youth jump into “real life.”

I’ve also been reflecting on the opportunities I’ve had to speak at my high school and college graduations and what I would say if I could do it all over again.

In both instances, I targeted my speech towards bolstering self-confidence, feeling that I was battling a mix of millennial apathy, small-town feelings of insignificance (in the case of my 27-student graduating class), and insecurity about the job market (in the case of my college graduation, which fell during the recession).

The theme of my high school speech was the Butterfly Effect, drawing parallels between a butterfly’s flap causing a hurricane across the world and our seemingly small decisions affecting the trajectory of our lives and those around us. The day of graduation, I had grabbed a make-shift butterfly net of pantyhose to catch butterflies to release at the end of my speech, envisioning a transcendental flourish to the cap off my speech. Unfortunately, biology was not my strongest subject, and I collected moths instead of butterflies, which bolted right to the lights for an ominous metaphor. (In hindsight, there might have been another message in the foiled plan: Don’t always trust your instincts. If you’re not willing to change course, you might end up zapped.)

My college graduation speech (begins at 1:07) was titled “Legendary,” and in an attempt to mitigate the pressures of the shitty economy and high internal expectations, I reminded my classmates that we have the advantages of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. In a final act of rebellion, I also inserted 1.) a dirty joke, 2.) a reference to GOD, and 3.) a plug for Pigeon River Brewing Company (which was then only a dream). “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing it small does not serve the world. Use your experiences to draw the strength to stand fearlessly on top of the giant and not back down from the legend that is within yourself.”

Those speeches have been special moments to bookend my education, and in both instances as much as I was aiming to motivate my classmates, I was also fighting against my own insecurity in my life’s path. Graduation can be inspiring, but it can also be terrifying, the idea that this is the moment in which you must choose the path for The. Rest. Of. Your. Life. …Shit.

If I could do it all over again, I’d have three messages to pass along to them (and myself):
1. Relax. Yes, this is a Big Moment. But there will be so many more Big Moments. If you miss the mark this time, you’ll have another chance. In the meantime, life is lived in between the Big Moments.

2. Stop obsessing about finding your “passion,” and start looking for your “calling.” Millennials get a bad rap for being narcissistic “snowflakes,” but much of this is brought on by well-meaning adults urging them to continuously look inward to “discover their passions.” What psychologists are now realizing is that a fulfilling career has less to do with the work being pleasurable and more to do with it being meaningful. Graduates need to shift their focus outside of themselves to recognize the needs of the world around them. In the words of Aristotle, “'Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

3. Learn contentment through love. In the economy of a life-well-lived, the unit of measurement is not money, power, achievement, or fleeting pleasure. It's love. Love of friends and family. Love of life's beauty. Love of God. Go ahead and shoot for the moon, but if you miss, you're not going to land among the stars. (mostly because the stars are much farther away from the moon, and hopefully anyone who's completed over a decade of education would know that!) You will, however, land among your friends, family, and God. Make sure you cultivate those relationships well so it'll be a soft landing.

A couple weeks ago I bought four lilac shrubs. They’re just little guys right now, but I made the comment to Nate that since they're a later-blooming hybrid, they’ll be perfect by the time we host the kids’ graduation parties. Now that’s thinking ahead.
My kids haven’t even started school yet, and so far their future plans are to build an intergenerational compound of houses so we can all be together forever (oh, my heart!). But someday, they will be standing at the edge of the diving board, and they'll be able to read mom's ramblings from once-upon-a-time. Now that’s thinking ahead.